Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The best guess seems to be that Peter wrote this letter from Rome in the early 60’s AD, not long before (according to church history and consistent with what Jesus said in John 21:18 would happen to him in later life) he was martyred in the persecution under Nero. He writes seemingly to combat the teaching of heretics who appear to be promoting a strain of antinomian heresy. (They were people who denied the validity of God’s moral law and maintained that they were free to engage in any activity they chose.) Exactly what they were teaching can’t be known from the text, but in many places it seems like we can hear Peter answering their false teachings and throwing back to them some of their own words, but saying what is really true about their phrases and subjects.
2Peter 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle, a bond slave and one specially chosen by God to be an eye-witness and evangelist is the one who writes. There is in this both great humility and also an understanding of his responsibility and authority to set people straight as to who Jesus is and what He has done. Peter addresses his readers as ones who share with him a precious Christian faith. The phrasing here in this first verse makes it clear that Peter sees Christ as one with the Father, as fully divine.
2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Pagan religions of the 1st century (and plenty of heresies of our own day) put a lot of emphasis on special “knowledge” available only to the initiated. Peter says true knowledge is inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ. And it is through Him the we are recipients of grace and peace, not through “knowing” some special incantations or secrets of the cult.
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
The heretics against who Peter seems to be writing have apparently declared that moral living (living in accord with God’s laws) is either impossible or unnecessary, or both. Peter opens here with a clear statement that godliness, life in accord with God’s wishes, is both desirable and in a real way possible because of the work of Christ. Christ’s power gives us all we need for life and godliness. We have both Christ’s power at work in us and His promises to us.
4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
The phrase “may become partakers of the divine nature” is one that Peter is likely throwing back at the heretics he is combating. There is a wonderful truth that in Christ, God’s Spirit dwells in us and changes our hearts, putting them in harmony with God. In a limited way, we share a family resemblance to Christ and the Father. We share His nature but not His essence. The goal of a pagan is to BE “god,” either in some Hindu kind of way where one is supposedly absorbed into some big single sea of consciousness, or in some more “new age” kind of way where one is supposed to really call the shots in a reality that one “owns.” Christian “participation in the divine nature” is something quite different from these pagan notions. It is, for one thing, not the goal at the end of the line, but rather the starting point! God’s Spirit dwells in us and starting from there, there follows a life of grateful service to our King and Lord. And Peter emphasizes that this produces holiness, not corruption/license but morality.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,
For this very reason/in light of the first 4 verses, make every effort. In light of what Christ has provided for us, Peter urges the consistent development of Christian virtues and character. There is a list or progression here, but not that one item must be mastered and then the next addressed as if one were sequentially collecting merit badges. Rather, all of these ought to always be increasingly evident in the life of a believer. Note that the list begins in verse 5 with faith and ends in verse 7 with (agape) love.
The word rendered here “to supplement” or “add to” carries connotations of lavish provision. Christians, don’t just throw on a little of these things, equip yourselves generously with them.
“virtue”/goodness here means “excellence”/the proper fulfillment of something. The proper fulfillment of a knife is a clean exact cut. The proper fulfillment of man is to reflect Christ and glorify the Father.
Peter says we are to be supplemented with knowledge. The heretics Peter is opposing seem to have a wrong view of “knowledge,” but that doesn’t cause Peter to dismiss real knowledge as unimportant, nor to hide from real knowledge. Indeed Christians should add to their excellence knowledge. This is practical knowledge that enables one to decide rightly and act honorably and efficiently in day to day life.
6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,
“self-control” is literally “the ability to take a grip of oneself.” It is having one’s passions under control.
“steadfastness”/perseverance is the courageous acceptance of all that life can do to one. It is more than stoic resignation that whatever comes must come. It is, instead, rooted in the promises of and sure knowledge of God, in confidence in His provision and character. The mature Christian does not give up. Answer 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism puts it this way: “We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father.”
“godliness” might be better translated “reverence,” a holy respect for God. Calvin’s motto Coram Deo (before the face of or in the presence of God) rightly describes a life lived carefully, reverently, consistent with the description that continues.
7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
Christians are to live with brotherly kindness. Our treatment of people must match our reverence for God. And the list culminates with love (agape love), the self-giving, unconditional, deliberate desire for the highest good of another that issues in sacrificial actions.
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To the pagan mind, the end of religious practice was to “know” and thus be able to manipulate. Christianity begins with knowing the personal God of the Bible through Christ and proceeds to productive service to our gracious Lord and Master.
9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
Again, it seems like heretics were teaching a self-centered religion that neither required nor produced any progress in these virtues. Peter is not impressed. Literally, it is “blind and nearsighted” and the blindness can mean not being able to see, as when one blinks or shuts one’s eyes. It seems here that Peter is saying that willfully shutting one’s eyes to the importance of the Christian virtues in verses 5-7 is tragically short-sighted. It is short-sighted in view of eternity, a topic Peter is going to broach in verse 11.
10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
Make your calling and election sure. Here again is Scripture’s consistent insistence that somehow both God’s choosing and man’s free will are true. To our finite minds, either God must choose or it is through our choosing that we come to faith. But Peter says “be all the more diligent/eager to make your calling and election sure.” God is indeed sovereign and yet we have a part in this.
“never fall” doesn’t mean that we will never encounter setbacks or will never mess up. It means that we will not be ultimately undone. Peter is saying here that if there is progress in Christian virtue there is no danger of complete loss. On the contrary,
11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This “rich entrance/welcome” carried an interesting connotation. Apparently the word is one that was used to describe the reception given by Greeks cities to champion athletes returning victorious from the games. Barclay says that they often broke down a part of the city wall so that the athlete could enter by their own route. The idea is one of extravagance of the welcome. The Christian faith is meant to bring us safely and even richly through this life into the next.
12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.
I intend “to remind you.” Much of the work of preaching and pastoring is to remind of what we should and, in fact, already do know. Genuine Christian teachers are not innovators. If it’s new, it’s surely wrong. Fallen human hearts want to see themselves as being on the forefront of new religious developments. What we instead ought to desire is to simply stand in the long line of real faith and be richly welcomed into Christ’s eternal kingdom on the same grounds that all before us have been welcomed. “Always reminding” was Peter’s number 1 job.
13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder,
14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.
Peter sees his own death coming soon. Jesus said to him
John 21:18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”
The letter was almost surely written around the time of Nero’s persecution of the church. It doesn’t take much insight for Peter to see what’s coming. He’s not scared or uneasy. This is the robust fellow who in Acts 12, while in prison chained to guards awaiting the action of Herod Agrippa was sleeping so soundly that the angel sent to get him had to hit him in the side to wake him up. But he is concerned for the church.
15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
Many commentators hear in this verse a promise that Mark will take what he’s heard in Peter’s preaching and compile it. The early church fathers considered the Gospel of Mark to be exactly that, a compilation of Peter’s preaching. Whether or not this is exactly what Peter means, he is promising to see that the apostolic Gospel is preserved and brought to remembrance of his readers even after he is gone.
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
There is almost certainly here either a refutation of a charge that heretics have brought against Peter, or a contrast with what the false teachers have been doing. Peter says “we apostles have done nothing except tell you what we saw and heard.” Christianity hangs on what really happened in time and space. It is absolutely vital that what the eyewitnesses say happened actually happened. And Peter says “I was there at the transfiguration. I know that He is God’s own Son.” Myths are stories made up out of nothing by humans for their own purposes. The Christian apostles weren’t dealing in such things. They were saying what they’d really seen, real things ordained by God for God’s purposes.
17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”
18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
Apparently the Greek can be rendered to mean either that Peter’s account confirms what the prophets had promised or that what the Old Testament prophets said confirms the veracity of Peter’s testimony. The ESV has chosen to render it in second way (the NIV chooses the first). The ESV rendering seems more plausible. That is, it seems like Peter may well be saying “look if you weren’t inclined to take my word for it, believe the Old Testament prophets. They confirm what I’ve told you about Christ.”
20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
And the Scriptures aren’t something that a bunch of guys dreamed up for fun. They aren’t the opinions of some wise men. They are instead the very revelation of God to fallen humanity. They are what God tells us about reality.
21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Men spoke from God as they were carried along as a sailing ship is moved by the wind, not in some kind of “automatic writing” way as if they were taking dictation, but as the Spirit of God blew them in right directions.